England v Wales: 'Surreal' Six Nations experience for Nick Tompkins

By Gareth GriffithsBBC Sport Wales
Nick Tompkins, Ross Moriarty, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones singing the Wales national anthem
Nick Tompkins, Ross Moriarty, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones singing the Wales national anthem
Guinness Six Nations: England v Wales
Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 7 March Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales & Radio Cymru, with text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

Wales centre Nick Tompkins admits it will be surreal when he lines up for Wales against the country of his birth at Twickenham.

The 25-year-old Saracens centre was born and brought up in and around Kent and was part of the England Under-20 Junior World Championships winning squad in 2014.

But Tompkins will find himself singing "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" on Saturday rather than "God Save the Queen".

"It feels surreal and I suppose it's not going to kick in until I'm there," said Tompkins.

"That's probably when I start getting like, 'Oh, this is actually here'. It hasn't really sunk in yet.

"I didn't ever play for any England side at Twickenham, so that'll be amazing to play here. I've played at Twickenham for Saracens but it'll be a new experience for me."

The fixture's magnitude is not lost on Tompkins, who jokes about witnessing a "lot of hatred for the English" a firmly tongue in cheek statement.

"You don't need much for England and Wales to get excited," said Tompkins.

"You can feel the anticipation, a bit of edge in training, which is great."

Ross Moriarty and Nick Tompkins celebrate while playing for England Under-20s
Ross Moriarty and Nick Tompkins celebrate while playing for England Under-20s

The Tompkins family will be out in full force, with father Andy having been bought a Wales shirt by Nick's brother.

"Dad has to wear the red jersey or else he can't come!" joked Tompkins.

"We give my dad stick, my mum's side are the Welsh ones. We gave my mum a lot of stick when we were younger which is ironic now.

"They are all coming, yeah. All my friends. Loads of people wanted tickets."

Sidcup-born Tompkins appeared destined for England honours having come through the system with teams like Oaklands College, London and South East Under-16s, Kent County and Old Elthamians.

He progressed to the Saracens academy and featured for England Under-18s and Under-20s, lining up alongside current Wales back-rower Ross Moriarty and Maro Itoje to win that Junior World Championships trophy.

An England Saxons appearance followed, but before Tompkins was asked to make the transition to the senior squad by Eddie Jones, Wales came calling.

Tompkins qualifies through his grandmother Enid, who was born in Wrexham in 1933, and Wales coach Wayne Pivac caused a surprise by naming him in the Six Nations squad.

So being billed as the one that got away from England, will he have a point to prove to Eddie Jones?

"I suppose, but the stronger emotion is to prove and show people why I'm here," said Tompkins.

"I want them to see that I deserve to be here. That's stronger than any 'you missed out' with England.

"The stronger issues are playing against your mates and proving yourself to people inside the camp and to the fans."

Facing friends

Those mates he refers to are Saracens colleagues in England's 23-man squad, with Itoje joined by Jamie George, George Kruis, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly and Ben Earl.

Tompkins has a long-term deal with Saracens but has been linked with a move to Wales next season, with Scarlets and Cardiff Blues battling to sign the centre.

For now he is concentrating on facing his current club colleagues. So has there been any pre-match banter this week?

"I've talked to Jamie although it was nothing about rugby, it was just about how was his dog and how he's been," said Tompkins.

"You play against your mates, you want to get one up over them. In training, Maro hits me hard so imagine when we get full contact."

Nick Tompkins and Maro Itoje with Saracens
Maro Itoje was the England Under-20s captain that won the Junior World Championships in 2014

Tompkins has experienced a steep learning curve at international level thanks to an eventful opening Six Nations campaign.

He enjoyed a dream start against Italy with a superb solo try as a replacement followed by a tricky defensive display against Ireland and an excellent performance against France, blighted by one mistake.

Tompkins was Wales' most attacking threat but also threw an interception pass against France which led to a Romain Ntamack try that changed the match.

"I've loved it although it's been tough," said Tompkins.

"You enjoy everything for what it is, even if it is negative sometimes.

"The standard of rugby is higher but the biggest difference is the hype around it, the stuff that's not to do with rugby."

On the interception, Tompkins added: "I was genuinely gutted because the momentum was with us and then it kind of shifts a bit.

"But I just said to myself 'you can't let that define you'. If you go back in your shell now, what's the point in being out there?

Nick Tompkins after scoring his try against Italy in his Wales debut which was the first of his three Wales caps
Nick Tompkins after scoring his try against Italy on his Wales debut, the first of his three caps to date

Ready for international stage

It is a mature attitude from an international newcomer - which he admits he has not always had.

"I'm ready now but don't know if I would have been ready if I'd been thrust in at 22 or 23," said Tompkins.

"Waiting (for an international call-up) was one of the hardest things I had to go through.

"You see all these guys make it and take their opportunities. You question why you're not getting the chances.

"It clicked later on there were things I needed to do and I wasn't. I was blaming other people, making up excuses.

"You have to be patient and I realise looking back, everybody's got their own path."

So a Six Nations game at Twickenham is the latest stage of Tompkins' journey, but will not be quite how he imagined it.

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